Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Wake up call

Snetterton 20th, 21st and 22nd of June.

The weekend almost didn't happen.
Nearly a month before, I had booked van hire with a new company in Worthing to pick up the van Thursday evening and deliver back Sunday night, all of which was cheaper than the previous place.
I took Thursday off as leave, but up to that point, most of the preparation was done, and all I had to do was organise the contents for the trip and pick up the van.
Thursday morning, I phoned the van hire company and asked what time I could pick up the van - "what van?" they said, "we have no van booked in your name".
I had spent nearly two months preparing for this event, spent nearly £500 in entry fees and the whole thing was about to go belly up if I couldn't get hold of a van.
It turns out that my debit card had been declined, however, they didn't think about getting in touch to let me know. Fortunately, a van was available, and it was bigger, so all came good in the end...phew!

 With the van acquired, we loaded up and was on the road to Snetterton by 6.15pm and got to the circuit at around 9.15 set up the Gazebo and had a nice bowl of chunky soup in Allies camper van before turning in to bed.

Friday morning looked dull but still dry to start with, but as the dark clouds came rolling in, I decided to change to a full set of wets as it started to drizzle. I was up for first practice, and I managed to get out on the track for just one full lap right as the heavens opened, went straight through my leathers and left me drenched within seconds, so I was pretty pleased to see the chequered flag come out.
In my first full session in the rain, I started off gently and progressively increased my pace and was cruising round the circuit at a comfortable pace, trying to get familiar with the new track layout.

 For some strange reason, the right had side of my visor was steaming up, leaving the left hand side clear, this meant I could see oncoming left hand corners quite easily, but in order to see the right handers, I had to twist my head to the left in order to see the corner. This was not ideal, but it was good enough to see where I was going.
The new sections were quite hard to learn as Snetterton is a very flat track and the corners look quite blind going in.
Later on with the misting cured with some special visor anti misting spray, I upped the pace a little more as I felt comfortable. Even though is was in the Formula 400 practise group, only 3 riders came past me all day in the wet practise sessions. I don't know if its because I am fast in the wet, or that everyone else wasn't really trying. Its odd, because I never used to regard myself as a wet weather rider, and to me, my pace in the wet doesn't feel fast, it simply feels as though I am cruising round a wet track, where as my pace in the dry feels physically hard as I wrestle the bike from one side to the other, hang off and drag everything on the deck and clench my bottom every time the back tyre starts to lets go.
I was still on wets in the last session on a track that was rapidly drying. The track was neither fully wet, neither was it fully dry, however, I found myself still circulating at a 'wet' pace, and was subsequently being passed by other riders on wet tyres, riding at a semi dry pace. It was then I realised what kind of pace you could ride at on wet tyres, which is actually quite fast.

I lined up for qualifying for the formula 400 class in the evening on a bone dry track and was still setting my gear change points as the session came to a close. I was a little disappointed to qualify as the 7th sub 64 bike and hoped I would do better in the race.
Friday evening turned out nice though, the weather was calm, the sun was out and people were having barbecues in the paddock and all was calm.
Allie bought us all dinner in the club house, I had a larger shandy which went straight to my head and then settled in for the night on the parcel shelf of Allies camper van.

In the early dawn light of Saturday morning, the weather became more blustery and the rain came down in fits and starts. I got up early and set about changing back to wet tyres as it looked as though I would be needing them for the Thunderbike Qualifying session. 
Thunderbikes is basically an open class structure where anyone can run just about anything from old bikes to one off prototypes classed by engine size.
Half the Thunderbike class had qualified in the dry the evening before, and the other half were qualifying in the wet this morning.
I got out onto the circuit whilst the circuit was still wet, but a dry line was appearing in a few of the corners. My pace felt comfortable and I was having a good time and passed other more powerful bikes with relative ease as they 'pussy footed' round the corners.

Saturday was horrendously windy, black clouds would roll over from the north, dump their contents on the track, before disappearing south. My first race was in the Thunderbikes, and the weather must have changed between wet and dry at least 3 times in the race just before mine. It looked like it might just stay wet, however, the race before mine was red flagged due to an incident, and within that time, the wind had started to dry the track out.
My race was called, so off I went to the collection area, where I was assembled on the 3rd row. All of the other bikes in front of me were 1000's and 750's as well as several rows behind. I must have been the smallest bike for about 5 rows.
As I sat in the collection area, the sun came out and dried the track even further. I looked around at the rest of the competitors who were all on dry tyres, I had serious reservation about the longevity of my tyres in these conditions.
I got a pretty poor start as I didn't slip the clutch enough off the line and lost a few places, one of them to fellow 400 rider Gary Jarman. Garry pulled out about 10 bike lengths on me to start with. I pushed it a little more and found my self on the back of Gary's bike as we headed down the long Revitt straight, Garry pulled out quite a considerable amount down the straight, but I soon made up the distance on the brakes going into the Esses and was back with him as we tipped into the fast left hander.
As I was getting ready to change direction, Gary flicked his bike into the right hander and the back wheel slid out form under him and sent both him and bike spiraling across the track right in front of me. Conscious that target fixation could also cause me to crash, I aimed for the inside of the turn as both rider and bike slid away from me leaving my line clear.
I kept pushing for about another lap until I found myself coming round the long fast sweeping Coram curve and the back of the bike was starting to get quite unstable as the tyres started to over heat and melt. I contemplated staying out on track, however, I knew that the tyres would get even more unstable and would probably chuck me off, not to mention ruining a good set of tyres which I would probably need for the rest of the weekend anyway, so it was at that point that I decided to pull in - Retirement #1.

Lunch was called early, so I took the opportunity to change back to dry tyres. The Formula 400 race was the second race after lunch.
During the race before mine, black clouds materialised over the circuit, dumped a down poor, then quickly disappeared. We had no time to change back to wet tyres, so I lined up in the assembly area on dry tyres.
As I sat in there in the assembly area,  I would say that about two thirds of the rest of the grid were also on wet tyres.
I got off to a very slow start and tip toed round the circuit at what felt like a leisurely pace and then started to pick it up as I gained more confidence and gathered feedback. I was taking it smooth and easy round the fast corners, gently guiding it in and applying the power as the bike felt stable and easing it off as the back started to squirm and spin up. I was rapidly gaining on the rest of the field, even those on wet tyres. Lap after lap, I would ride round the outside of Coram and stuff it up the inside at Murray's and also gain hand over fist going into Richies. Again, this didn't feel like racing, it just felt like 'fast cruising'. Given a few more laps, I am confident that I could have upped my pace even further and taken quite a few more places, but as it was, I came home as 2nd Rookie.

The Thunderbikes in the afternoon turned out dry, and luckily this time I also had dry tyres fitted.
The Thunderbike race was a hoot. Here I was, a rookie girl on a 250 road bike mixing it with 600's 750's and 1000's on one of the fastest circuits in the country and stuffing it in any gap I could find (or make) and make quite a nuisance of myself to these masters of point and squirt. Even though I have no idea where I came in that race, it was a great opportunity to practice race craft, line up other riders for overtaking manoeuvres and maybe teach them a thing or two about cornering, instead of relying on the throttle.....lol.

My last race of the day was in the Formula 400's. I got a reasonable grid position and a reasonable start and found myself putting the experience of my last Thunderbike race into good practice as I pulled off a few sneaky moves here and there to gain a few more places, however, I found on a few occasions as I tried stuffing it up the inside at Murray's, that I entered the corner in neutral instead of first gear, which totally screwed my line and made the bike unstable. The same happened later going into the tight right hander at Oggies where I couldn't change down, lost concentration and realised at that point, I wasn't going to make the corner. I stood the bike up, shot off the track and thought I was about to dump it in the dirt, but manged to keep it upright and rejoin. I was finding that I had to make more of an effort to change gear, and as such, I wasn't concentrating as much on my racing. It was at this point that I decided to pull out of the race - Retirement #2.

After I got back to the pits, it became clear that the gear rod that Dickie had made up had started to bend, which in turn changed the position of the gear lever making it difficult to change gear.
As it was the end of the racing day, I removed the left hand footrest assembly and started to replaced it with the old Raask footrest that I had previously used so that it would be ready for the next day.
Unlike the last time out at Brands Hatch, I actually checked my finishing positions and knew this time I had come second in the Rookie class, so instead of missing the awards ceremony, I quickly got changed in the back of the van and made my way up to the packed club house whilst Gin finished off fitting the replacement footrest assembly.
After standing around for ages in a packed clubhouse, each of the riders who were eventually called up to collect their awards for the days racing and were were received with a loud round of applause and the odd cheers and whistles. The announcer got to the results for the Formula 400 race and started reading out the trophy winners in reverse order. Walking up to the front of the packed club house to receive my award after such a long break from racing made me feel pretty proud of myself, even if it was for second place. But a little part of me continually yearns for that Number One top step trophy, and although I know I need to be realistic about my chances with all things considered, I do know that without that yearning I wouldn't have even gotten second place.
Anything worthwhile is never easy!

Sundays weather was even more blustery than Saturday. We secured some ratchet straps onto a chain link fence and Allies camper van to stop the Gazebo blowing away. Practise was dry, but because of yesterdays over run, and races from the March meeting being re-scheduled into today's programme, the timetable was haphazard, thus, practise was only two laps. I felt that the bike was losing power the day before, so I decided to to a plug chop at the end of the Revitt straight so that I could look at the spark plugs and determine how the fuel mixture was running. 
On the first lap, I cut the engine flat out in 5th gear and pushed the bike back to the pits.
It was then I noticed that not only had one of the powervalves reversed (keeping one of the exhaust ports closed when it should have been open, thus restricting the engine from top end power) but one of the screws had come out of another leaving it in a half open position. The plug looked black on the left hand cylinder which was to be expected with the powervalves not working correctly. The right hand cylinder lloked dark brown though which indicated it was safe, but could have possibly come down one size more.
I installed a new screw in the powervalve and shortened the linkage in an effort to stop it reversing.
After Gin and I finished working on the engine, the rain lashed down, so we opted to put the wet tyres in.
About 10 minutes before my first Thunderbike race of the day, the wind was strong and the track was drying fast. Gin and I ummed and arred over which would be the best tyre choice. We decided to keep a wet front and choose a dry rear. With a few whirls of a spanner and a ratchet, the back wheel was in.
We then stood outside, looking up at the skies and about 5 minutes before I was called to the assembly area, we whipped out the front wheel and put the dry front in too. That must have been the fastest wheel change over the weekend.
I lined up in the collection area, there was a dry line appearing on the track but still damp at the edges.
As I got off the line, I took it easy for a few laps and starting reelling in some of the bigger bikes.
I was having a right ding dong with a 996 Ducati and a Suzuki TL1000R. Both of them would stomp off down the straights leaving me for dead and start breaking just about at the same point where I'm changing up to 6th!
Lap after lap, I would catch up, get baulked into the corners and was denied the opportunity to ride round the outside due to the narrow dry line which I had to stay on. As I approached the end of the Revitt straight, I could see myself gaining on the two bikes in front at a ridiculous rate as they braked way too early, I could see that my closing pace was fast, and I would need to time it right in order to swing past at the appropriate point. I picked my line, and as the Ducati swung left in front of me, I immediately switched right and aimed for the outside and sliced past on the brakes and ran tight into the next right hander stuffing it up the inside of the TL1000 whilst the little KR protested by bobbing and weaving on the brakes as both the front and the back were starting to let go. I extended my lead all the way from the Esses to Murrays, only to be sucked into their passing wake as they stormed past halfway down the start finish straight.

After the race had finished, I had discovered that the left hand powervalve had reversed again. The little rose jointed tie rod that connects the powervalves had run out of adjustment, so from my big box of spares, I  fitted a smaller one and re-assemdanbled the linkage.
I had noticed that during some of the dry races, the front end of the bike would patter going through fast long sweeping corners such as Corams and Hamilton whilst I waas feeding the power on. It didn't feel as though there was a series of bumps, so I concluded it was some handling characterisitic of the front suspension.
It just so happend that the Steve Jordan racing team were in the paddock that weekend, who are specialists in all things suspension. So off I went to see some advice about setup. I explaned the situation to Steve, who explained that as I was putting power on, it was taking weight off the front, which in turn was causing the front to patter. Steve recommended a couple of tweaks. Firstly, he said that I should either lower the front (by dropping the forks through the yokes) or raise the rear by increasing the spring preload. As I had previously had ground clearance issues, I opted to increase the rear spring preload. Secondly, he also recommended increasing the rebound damping for the forks by a touch to slow down the rate at which the fork extends. I increased the the rebound damping by about a quater turn.

The first Formula 400 race was definitely dry, I had to start from the back of the grid of 40 bikes as I had retired from yesterdays race though, so this was going to be quite tough.
I got off to a good start and the first corner was quite crowded, but I managed to hassle my way past some slower riders who clearly were not committed as me. I progressively caught other riders as the race went on and I was pushing the bike hard lap after lap.
I got in behind Dan Hardy on his ZXR400 and a few other riders in the infield section of the circuit, but felt as though I was being held up in  the corners.  I lined Dan up going into Montreal just before the long Revitt straight, I got a good entry and accelerated through the apex and was catching Dan rapidly until he opened the throttle, and at this point he must have pulled out at least 150 yards on me by the end of the long straight.
As Dan got to the end of the straight, he braked way too early and I could see myself closing in at a great rate of knots (hey, I've done this before). I pitched it in left, swung round Dan on the outside of the left hander at the Esses and stuffed up the inside going into the right hander, slipped the clutch hard on the exit and pulled out an advantage going into the Bombhole;


I was aware the last time at Brands Hatch that I was getting some serious lean angles, with the fairing and footpegs touching down at some of the corners, so in this race, I made a conscious effort to hang off the bike more in order to use less lean angle.
I felt as though I was practically climbing off the bike and being dragged along behind the bike on my knee sliders which took one hell of a beating in this race. On one of the laps, as I approached Oggies, I  stuffed the little KR up the inside of a 400 Kawasaki, literally threw the bike on its side, pointed it round the corner and wound on the power whilst everything was on the deck. It was at this point that the back tyre started to let go. As I felt it go, my buttocks clenched and thought this could be one hell of a highside. I resisted the urge to back off completely, so I just backed off the power slightly and the slide decided to run its course and kindly gave back traction once it had finished without as much of a twitch. I then picked the bike up and snicked it up an extra gear, I tipped it into Williams, banked over hard, fed the power in smoothly from the apex, I could feel the back just spinning up slightly so I picked it up slightly to get onto the fatter part of the tyre and kissed the kirb stones on the exit....poetry in motion!
"Hey, I think some of the old magic is just starting to come back."
This is one of the reasons why I like two strokes so much, you see, when you hit that sweet spot in the powerband, the responsiveness of the engine is so crisp and precise and you feel that there is so much more of a direct connection between your right wrist and the back tyre which you don't quite get with a fourstroke of the same power.
I managed to fight my way through some tough traffic for this race and my pace was definitely improving, but by about three quarters race, I had run out of riders to race against and lost a bit of my focus to keep up the fast pace. Despite starting from the last row of the grid, I did manage to cross the line as third rookie.
I did find though, on the warm down lap, that the bike was starting to lose power, and eventually stopped as I exited the circuit. After a few kicks it was clear the engine was dead. I checked the tank only to find that I had totally run out of fuel.
I was unable to select neutral as the gear shaft had bent again, so a few helpful spectators helped to push the bike back to the pits.
Back in the pits, the rose joints at both ends of the gear mechanism had come loose and the long shaft had also deformed.
Gin and I replaced one of the rose joints, repaired another and reinforced the aluminium rod by inserting a couple of hastily modified tent pegs down the hollow shaft in order to give it some extra support.
Because the day had been so frantic with so much maintenance and wheel changes, I decided to miss the last Thunderbikes race and concentrate on the last F400 of the weekend.
The last race had put me in a decent grid position on the 5th row.
As the lights went green, I got off to a good start, but about a lap in, the rain started to pour. As the track got  wet, my pace slowed quite dramatically and I started to lose touch with the other riders I was dicing with. It was as if I had reset back to full wet mode, whilst the track was neither fully wet or fully dry.
I could see the group in front pull away from me, however, I knew I was better than this as I had blinding race in wet conditions on dry tyres the day before. After about one lap, I had a serious word with myself, and started to up my pace again and started gaining back the distance that I had lost on the pack in front. I re-pased two of the riders as I finally re-adjusted to the semi wet conditions. I was comfortably upping my pace, and as I tipped the bike into the left hander of Murrays and went to select first gear, my foot went straight down. I quickly glanced down to see that the left hand footrest was upside down and had done exactly what the right hand footrest had done at Brands Hatch the last time out in the TSGP race.
I pulled off the track just before the start finish straight for Retirement number #3.
Back at the pits, Gin sheepishly admitted that she forgot to tighten the footrest bolt after she had adjusted the gear lever position (no tea for Ginny then).

On Reflection
The whole weekend felt like non stop action from start to finish and Gin and I were thoroughly exhausted from it all.
I knew going into this weekend that it was going to be tough, considering that this was only my second meeting at a very fast track that had been highly modified since my last visit, but I feel that with everything that went on with the weather, the tyres, the gearchange and the powervalves, I really didn't have a chance to give it my best shot even though I did come away with two trophies.
The first meeting of the year was a bit special for me, which may have spoilt my expectations bearing in mind that I have considerable recent experience at Brands Hatch over the past couple of years and that the track doesn't distinguish between fast and slow bikes as much as Snetterton does. But, then again, even back in the days of old, it wasn't unusual to come away with no trophies at all from time to time, so maybe I shouldn't be so hard on myself.

....but I really wants that Number One shiny thing......"my precious!"







No comments:

Post a comment